The Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) ballot initiative didn’t get very far after it was passed by Toledo voters in 2019, thanks to the fast action of Ohio Farm Bureau member Mark Drewes. Drewes, who farms in Wood County, filed a lawsuit to thwart the attempt to give legal rights to Lake Erie and give Toledoans authority to sue farmers on behalf of the lake. The result of Drewes’ lawsuit was a U.S. District Court judge ruling decisively that LEBOR was invalid.
Drewes wasn’t alone in his efforts. The law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease took on the case for Drewes, with financial support from Ohio Farm Bureau.
“This wasn’t just about how LEBOR was going to affect me and my farm. This was about the principle of being sued just because you’re a farmer, even though you follow all of the regulations and guidelines put in place to protect our environment,” Drewes said. “If it hadn’t been for Ohio Farm Bureau’s involvement in supporting me in this case, it could have turned out to be a much different situation for every farmer in the Lake Erie Watershed.”
It is not uncommon for Ohio Farm Bureau to engage in court cases that could set a major precedent that would possibly affect its members. Throughout the litigation, Farm Bureau actively assisted Drewes and his legal team to ensure that the concerns of Farm Bureau members were heard. OFBF’s legal staff lent agricultural expertise to Drewes’ lawyers and provided supporting information about agriculture’s efforts to protect water quality.
“The fact that Mark could be the target of outrageous lawsuits for the way he farms is a prime example of why Ohio Farm Bureau had to be a part of his team through the LEBOR battle,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “If farmers like Mark, who does all of the right things, could have been taken to court by a citizen of Toledo who may have never farmed a day in their life, it would have impacted Ohio agriculture in a very negative way.”
Now, with the case closed, farmers can put their focus squarely back on efforts that will make real differences in Ohio’s water quality challenge. Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio funding plan will expand the water quality initiative to farmers throughout the Lake Erie Watershed in 2021 and beyond.